At the heart of historical revisionism is distrust… a lack of faith in previous interpretations of the historical record. This blog has bitterly observed the crass consumerism and intellectual vanity that often drive outlandish revisions in our history. But, a closer examination reveals the true divide between revisionist and traditionalist- trust.
Maybe there’s hope
As historians rush to laud Alan Taylor’s new revision… of the American Revolutionary movement, the distrust is laid bare. If revisionist historians refuse to come out and proclaim all previous work wrong, then there must be a lack of trust. Was Gordon Wood trying to deceive us when explaining how radical our Revolution was? Did Dumas Malone wish to hide Jefferson’s feelings on slavery and freedom? Was Edmund Morgan deliberately distorting history when explaining racial diversity in Colonial Virginia? All revisionists will say is that works like Taylor’s are now “the standards.” To hell with what came before…
Unite us, David
There is no mass historical conspiracy to disregard… races or classes of people. Gordon Wood should be read in first year graduate courses and beyond. In their zeal to legitimize controversial interpretations, revisionists like Taylor and Annette Gordon-Reed propagate the distrust of these noteworthy predecessors.
Old Fuss and Feathers
Winfield Scott’s Vera Cruz campaign stands… as one of the great military expeditions in all history. He severed ties to his base of supplies, traversed the rocky mountain paths to Mexico City, and battled outbreaks of yellow fever to storm the Halls of Montezuma and conquer the Mexican capital. In London, the Duke of Wellington proclaimed, “Scott is lost!” when he learned of the bold move from the coast. By the end of Summer 1847, the Iron Duke had changed his mind declaring Scott the, “greatest living soldier, unsurpassed in military annals.”
Was there a greater military analyst?
As brilliant as Scott’s strategy was… he had extraordinary tactical support, especially from his talented company of engineers. The victory at the battle of Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847 opened the door to the Valley of Mexico. Often called the Thermopylae of the West, Cerro Gordo featured a treacherous march around the Mexican lines over a tiny mountain trail. Scott’s army was able to flank the Mexican forces because of the bravery and skill of his engineers. Major Robert E. Lee commanded a talented group that included Captain George B. McClellan, Captain Joseph E. Johnston, and Lieutenant PGT Beauregard. Names that become iconic figures in the Civil War cut their tactical teeth during Scott’s masterful campaign.
Election of 1948 edition
- Democrats briefly courted Dwight D. Eisenhower to challenge Truman for the nomination. The Republicans were talking with Douglas MacArthur during the same period.
- Truman’s support for NAACP legal efforts combined with his executive order desegregating the military caused the Southern Democrats to splinter and nominate Dixiecrat, Strom Thurmond.
- Liberal Democrats rejected Truman as well- they nominated Henry Wallace as the Progressive party candidate.
- Dewey’s lackluster campaign was best summed up by the poorly crafted message- “You know that your future is still ahead of you.”
- As election day arrived, only Truman was convinced of his victory- many on his staff had already accepted other jobs.
Filed under Ephemera, News
sacrifice for a worthy cause
The irony that on the Ides of March… where the original western tyrant was dispatched, the world’s greatest republican (notice the small ‘r’) proved beyond any doubt his fidelity to that cause. George Washington addressed the Newburgh conspirators on March 15, 1783. At a pivotal moment, when our vulnerable government dangled by string following the unlikely victory in the Revolution, Washington shined brightest.
Gates had to yield the floor
Officers in the Continental army furious over not being paid… during years of fighting the Revolution were threatening mutiny and possibly a coup d’etat. Officers loyal to Horatio Gates planned a meeting to formalize their mutinous intention of replacing Washington with the dastardly Gates. Washington requested to attend the meeting, then surprised Gates (who had opened the meeting) by requesting to speak. The tiny building was dimly lit, smoky, and crowded as Washington took the floor; the faces of his men were expressionless. Washington fumbled with his prepared address, starting, stopping, tripping on his words in the dim candlelight. After a few attempts at beginning, he paused, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”
Not a dry eye in the house
The impassioned speech that followed… was really unnecessary. Washington’s sincere request reminded every officer in that room how selfish they had all been. No amount of money, treasure, or property could replace what they had won, together. Eventually, Congress granted the officers some of the pay owed them, but the Revolution had been saved by a true leader that night in a tiny cabin in Newburgh, New York.
What makes an historian?… A collection of advanced degrees? The ability to thoroughly explain research? Published writing in a peer reviewed journal? Teaching eager young minds about the past? Could any combination of these qualify a person as an “historian?”
Tell us Mr. McCullough, what do you specialize in?
The narrow parameters of academic discipline… create the appearance of rigid professionalism, but in effect, provide only compartmentalized confusion. The specialization that permeates the digital age seems to have influenced all reaches of academia. People no long study history, but must focus on some minute period of it. The requisite for title of ‘historian’ is now a Doctor of Philosophy degree in some purposely narrowed time period, often accompanied by an equally specific cultural scope. (PhD in 19th Century Female Labor Patterns-with a focus on the American Northeastern Corridor.) Shouldn’t “historians” be able to speak intelligently and passionately about a variety of historical issues, similarly, as we expect auto mechanics to be able to repair all types of cars?
Lawyers can be historians too…if they write the appropriate books…
The academic job market is shrinking… yet PhD’s are being handed out at record levels. There is legitimate doubt as to the true economic value of such an advanced degree. If the requisite skills can be acquired without the crippling debt and limited prospects- shouldn’t there be a reevaluation of professional guidelines? The field of history is changing at rapid pace- the professionals taking it on need to adjust to the race.
Filed under Ephemera, News
Proponents of Andrew Jackson’s policies cite his… veto of the rechartering of the Second National Bank as a victory for the ‘little guy.’ Old Hickory was defending the interests of States and the common man against the wicked monopoly held by the ‘monstrous’ bank. A closer examination of his storied veto message reveals inconsistencies in Jackson’s motive.
“these polices(of the Second US Bank) created of bond of union among the banking establishments of the nation erecting them into an interest separate from that of the people.”
Trivializing the momentous
Was Jackson opposed to the Second National Bank… or banks in general? The veto message is not clear, and his advisers didn’t discriminate in their policy making. It is difficult to imagine that educated politicians of any era could have such a rudimentary understanding of finance- cash is good, credit is bad…. The political motivations for killing the Second National Bank far outweighed any economic or egalitarian rhetoric put forward by Jackson and his cronies.
Jackson’s nemesis was a banker- Nicholas Biddle
The antebellum economy was built upon credit… 80% of all transactions and transfer of goods involved extensions of credit- banks were vital to this financial system. Jackson’s political gamble to win reelection was that the reduction of available credit would not have much effect on American commerce. The Second National Bank was at the center of a complicated web of notes, loans, credit, and specie… Jackson’s policies were about to tear it apart.
Filed under Ephemera, News
Friends and rivals
The American experience has always been built on experimentation… Our very existence doubted by most of the world, the optimism of Thomas Jefferson became essential to the survival of our republican experiment.
As the election of 1796 loomed… the friendship between Jefferson and John Adams waned. Jefferson reminded his friend of their experiment:
“I am aware of the objection to this, that the office becoming more important may bring on serious discord in elections. In our country I think it will be long first; not within our day; and we may safely trust to the wisdom of our successors the remedies of the evil to arise in theirs. Both experiments however are now fairly committed, and the result will be seen. Never was a finer canvas presented to work on than our countrymen…. This I hope will be the age of experiments in government, and that their basis will be founded on principles of honesty, not of mere force….If ever the morals of a people could be made the basis of their own government, it is our case.” Jefferson to Adams, February 28 1796